Acrophobia, or an intense fear of heights is one of the most common phobia in the world; when we asked people in the street “Would you like to skydive”, approximately half of the people that we questioned, said no, and their reasoning was either, “I am scared of heights”, or “I am too old”… well, age should never be a reason to avoid anything, but let’s just focus on a fear of heights in this blog.
There is a possibility that a high percentage of those people that say they have a fear of heights don’t actually suffer from acrophobia. When most people talk about a fear of heights, what they are actually talking about is a completely different fear, which is the fear of falling (or basiphobia).
A fear of falling is natural and is typical in most humans and mammals as it is one of the bodies natural defence mechanisms. Although basiphobia and acrophobia are closely related, the fear of falling encompasses anxieties related to the sensation and possibly dangerous effects of falling, as opposed to the fear of height itself. So if you have a fear of falling rather than a fear of heights… read no further and book that skydive, because in freefall, you do not get the sensation of falling, it feels more like you are floating or flying, which is actually what you are doing, you are floating on air.
There is quite a lot of physics behind skydiving, but to put simply, once you leave the plane you have two forces acting upon you; gravity pulling you down towards the earth and friction with the air which pushes in the opposite direction from the direction you are falling (it pushes up on you and your equipment). The faster you drop the stronger air resistance becomes and you will reach terminal velocity, whereby gravity and air resistance are equal. This force pushing up against your body and equipment is what gives you the sensation of flying rather than falling. For more detailed information, please read our last blog “Does a Skydive Feel Like A Rollercoaster Ride?”, or visit Physlink.com
Right, now we have established that half of you actually suffer from basiphobia and you are looking for a phone number to book your skydive (it’s 0191-369-2468), but what about those of you that really do suffer from acrophobia? Should you skydive?
For years, many individuals have put themselves forward for acrophobia studies, to help scientists come up with a cure. According to M.J. Schumie et al. from the University of Amsterdam, phobias consist of a persistent fear of a circumscribed stimulus and a consequent avoidance of that stimulus. The most common and most successful treatment for acrophobia is therefore to break the habitual avoidance of the fear by exposing yourself to the feared stimuli. At first, the fear will increase, but after exposure to the fear for some time, the fear will gradually diminish (Bouman, Scholing & Emmelkamp, 1992). This research leads us to think that skydiving could actually help you overcome your fear of heights. It might be a terrifying thought, but could be just the tonic you need to break a habit and conquer a fear!
To encourage you even more, most often, a fear of heights has to do with the perception of objects standing or moving relative to each other. So, when you stand on a balcony and look down at objects, your brain can calculate the distance relative to you and that is why you feel an intense fear of height or a fear that you could fall. However, typically skydiving takes place at altitudes around 10,000 feet to 15,000 feet above the earth, the view of the earths surface becomes too distance for you to perceive your distance to it, and so often people that suffer from acrophobia realise that at this height the surface of the earth is too far away for acrophobia problems to arise.
So if you do suffer from acrophobia, why not take a chance, or even use this fear to raise hundreds of pounds for charity by taking part in a sponsored skydive… you will be facing a fear while doing something for a worthwhile cause, you never know, a skydive might even cure you.